Lady and the Tramp review – charming and harmless update of a classic

Charlie Bean’s live-action remake might not be revolutionary, but there’s enough music and romance to make it shine

There’s a pleasant musicality flowing through Charlie Bean’s live-action Lady and the Tramp remake. The Disney+ exclusive was released without fanfare, but also had a lot to prove following the soulless CGI of Jon Favreau’s The Lion King. Here, Bean (best known as an animator) works with real dogs to bring the characters to life. Naturally there’s also some digital magic going on, but there is still great fluidity and emotion in these canine heroes.

The credibility is also aided by a charming, playful voice cast working with a solid script. Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux offer complementarity as the title characters – she with warmth and elegance, he with gruff charisma – and the words written by Support the Girls writer/director Andrew Bujalski feel at once ambitious and humble, full of sincere musings on love and loyalty, always questioning the line between independence and loneliness.

Beyond the script and the original story’s legacy, there isn’t an enormous amount of revolutionary material – but there needn’t be. The film trots along at its own speed, full of low-stakes skits and romantic early 20th century nostalgia.

The original film’s music is mostly honoured and updated – Janelle Monáe (voicing stray dog Peg) has a terrific solo number, F. Murray Abraham (as one of the only human characters, restaurant owner Tony) performs the mighty “Bella Notte” sweetly. Lady’s owners, Jim Dear and Darling, are nicely captured by Thomas Mann and Kiersey Clemons – Mann, memorable from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, masters the good intentions but limited emotional range of the character, while Clemons impresses more than once with her musical sensitivity.

This new Lady and the Tramp won’t change the world, but it won’t anger it either. At this stage in Disney’s breakneck mission to respin every beloved story into oblivion, this feels like a crucial achievement.

Lady and the Tramp is now streaming on Disney+.

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